This Is Not a Review of Sullivan's Steakhouse
Reflections on the Incredible Seattle Debut of a Texas Steak House Chain
ryan hyde/team photogenic
People in these parts aren't used to a red carpet, much less a red carpet lined with good-looking, well-dressed people applauding the very act of ambulation down a red carpet. At the VIP debut party of Seattle's Sullivan's Steakhouse last week, each and every Very Important attendee was funneled down exactly such an awning-covered gauntlet, as approximately 40—I do not exaggerate—sets of hired hands clapped and accompanying sets of teeth gleamed all along the way. It was a red-carpet tunnel of cringing and scurrying. A PR person empathetically explained: "The owners are from Texas." (This is the 20th link in the Sullivan's chain.) The light at the end of the tunnel: a set of six people, three on each side, who actually had a function, which was to offer your choice of sparkling, red, or white wine before you even crossed the threshold.
The excess had barely begun.
Immediately inside, 6 or 10 or a dozen more people competed for the privilege of divesting you of your jacket and welcoming you yet more thoroughly. If your combobulation had not already been destroyed by the red carpet and this subsequent barrage, flashbulbs popped. A jazz band played. A restless sea of occupied dark suits and cocktail dresses extended seemingly endlessly.
Then there was the discombobulation of the space itself. You may recall that Sixth and Union used to be home to the Union Square Grill, a steak house with a classic dark-polished- wood tastefully-vaguely-deco interior run by the owners of Seattle steak standby Metropolitan Grill. Then, with scant interior alteration, it became the Lost Lady American Cantina last spring. The Lost Lady was run by Dale Wamstad, a flamboyant Texas restaurateur who was the topic of a lengthy article in the Dallas Observer in 2000 that detailed his past lawsuits, "bitter business partners," and an altercation with his ex-wife in 1985 in which she shot him three times at one of his restaurants. The Lost Lady met with critical crickets and closed within two months. The Sullivan's chain—which is, ironically, part of Del Frisco's Restaurant Group, originally founded then sold by Wamstad—gutted the space, moved the entrance down the block, switched the bar from one side of the room to the other, and gave the place a classic dark-polished-wood tastefully-vaguely-deco interior. It is virtually indistinguishable from what was there before, yet must have cost (literally) a million dollars. (The only significant addition: a frieze of truly terrible airbrushed-looking jazz-and-sexy-lady imagery around the top of the barroom, including close-ups of guitar frets and a woman's lipsticked mouth poised to suck on a big cigar.) The mind boggles. Sullivan's also donated $20,000 to local nonprofit Sports in Schools, which is very nice. Thank you for the local economy stimulation, Texas. That felt good!
The VIP party had an open bar, women carrying around bottles of bubbly in case one was too lazy to push one's way back to the open bar, sushi served by a dexterous man from a tray onto tiny plates in the middle of the swarming crowd, king crab legs served by a tongs-wielding man who seemed genuinely overjoyed to be serving king crab legs with tongs, mini steak sandwiches, oysters on the half shell, tiny quiches, razor-clam fritters, a set of tables groaning under the weight of meats/cheeses, a rumored but unlocated abundance of pasta, a dessert table groaning like the meat/cheese one but under duress of sweetness, another bar, another jazz band, an outdoor dance floor, and—in case you needed further knocking out—a signature drink called the Knock-Out, made with vodka infused with pineapple for two weeks, with the pineapple then hand-squeezed. At least, I think that's what the bartender said. It was hard to hear over the second band.
Sullivan's is very likely quite expensive and pretty good. The Stranger won't be reviewing Sullivan's Steakhouse, not because of the ethical issue of the consumption of crab legs (which, to look a gift crab in the mouth, were brinier than they should have been; also, the mini steak sandwiches contained too much bread, not enough meat), but because there are so many other new restaurants in Seattle, ones that aren't chain steak houses that you can safely bet are quite expensive and pretty good.
The review of the party, in a word: incredible. But: incredible in the sense of time travel, of amazing ostentation, of insane excess, of possible impending fall of civilization—in the sense of too improbable to be believed. I don't mess with Texas, but Texas has now messed with my mind.